[Chris Edwards, who writes extensively about silent films on his blog, Silent Volume, has written the following review of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. To see the full programme click on the Doomsday header image above.]
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome opens with Max (Mel Gibson) tearing across the desert in a motorless truck, pulled by a team of camels. The poor man’s sure been downgraded. I mean, The Road Warrior (1981) had more engine-gunning than dialogue. In fact, by the time Max reaches Bartertown, a busy settlement of thugs and traders, it seems as though his world’s gone medieval. Animals are the chief means of transportation and power; gasoline is rarely mentioned; pistols and rifles are uncommon, and the open market that forms the centre of Bartertown is a chaos of vendors in rags.
Bartertown is ruled by Aunty (Tina Turner); a powerful personality prone to speeches. Aunty rules Bartertown for the most part, but she’s beholden to the brilliant dwarf, Master (Angelo Rossitto) and his muscle, Blaster, who control the huge pig pen beneath the town. Pigs poo, and when they do, the methane can be harvested for power. Aunty is sick of Master’s demands, and so she engages Max to challenge the childish but hulking Blaster to mortal kombat in Thunderdome.
Thunderdome is a semi-circular cage. Audience members climb its exterior to watch the action. They also hang various weapons (including a chainsaw) from its top bars. The kombatants can reach these weapons with a strong jump, because they are harnessed into elastic slings that allow them to bound and barrel-roll within the cage. Say what you want about the rest of the film—this scene is creative. And it ends with Max once again reaching the line between self-preservation and total moral collapse, and refusing to cross it.
This consistency of character (in the ethical, rather than literary sense) is about all the third film retains from the first two. The Road Warrior had already taken a big leap up (or slide down) the apocalyptic continuum, transforming Max Rockatansky from noble Aussie cop in a declining community to gasoline-scrounging, but still decent, survivalist in the Australian desert, post-decline. The third Max is likewise good man, but the world around him is so self-contained that he needn’t be Max Rockatansky at all. Beyond Thunderdome sweeps away all the earlier films’ reflections on social decay by blaming the current situation on a single moment: a nuclear holocaust. Why does a simple post-Bomb story need Max, instead of anyone else? What of his past is brought to bear on these events? Remember the title: this is not ‘Mad Max 3,’ it’s just Mad Max in a different location. Would you like to know more…?